Commentary | USF's Orlando Antigua could be new Billy Donovan

adell@bradenton.comApril 6, 2014 

The USF men's basketball program can be a success.

The proof is Billy Donovan.

"Bill The Kid" was a 30-year-old unknown when he took over Florida in 1996.

Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley took heat for the hire, but it was mild because the basketball program was irrelevant.

He saw an energy in Donovan that was unparalleled.

Donovan lived up to that hype when he gained national attention walking the halls of Miami High in pursuit of his first big-time recruit, Udonis Haslem.

Donovan looked young enough to fit in with the students and was ridiculed for using an amateurish approach.

He got Haslem in '98, and the Gators made four straight NCAA Tournaments, including the championship game in his sophomore year.

Donovan won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007 and is in this weekend's Final Four.

New USF men's basketball coach Orlando Antigua was at best the school's third choice.

It doesn't matter. He could be the best fit.

Antigua looks like the new "Billy The Kid."

The 41-year-old has similar Kentucky ties and is connected to its head coach, John Calipari, the way Donovan was to Rick Pitino when he coached the Wildcats.

This cannot be taken lightly. Not every elite player can go to Kentucky, and why wouldn't Calipari send some to Antigua, whom he considers a son?

Calipari called USF a sleeping giant, which makes longtime Bulls fans shudder. Seth Greenberg said the same thing when he took over the program in '96. Two coaches later, it is still in deep slumber de

spite a few wake-up calls from recently fired Stan Heath.

This could be the second time USF has benefited from getting a coach it didn't necessarily want.

USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez is the other.

The school was mired in its biggest sports scandal in 2000 amid racial discrimination allegations. The ugly scenario resulted in the firing of women's head coach Jerry Ann Winters and subsequent resignation of athletic director Paul Griffin.

Fernandez was a 27-year-old unknown assistant whose only head coaching experience was in high school. He was hired as an interim coach to defuse a volatile situation.

But Fernandez is still there, and the program is flourishing.

He transformed USF women's basketball into a postseason regular, advancing 10 of the past 11 seasons, including two NCAA Tournament berths and a WNIT title.

Antigua shows a lot of the characteristics that make Donovan successful.

You want hungry, desperate type guys to coach your program. He fits that mold.

Antigua was homeless during stretches of his youth. He was shot in the head at 16 and carried the bullet for six years.

He grew up in a tough part of the Bronx, where shooting guns is as normal as shooting baskets.

He was the first Latin to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. You think that was easy? Put yourself in that position.

The Kentucky players say he has an energy level that is hard to match.

Oh, and did we say he is well-connected?

When that pipeline starts with Calipari, you have access to a gold mine of talent.

You can bet Calipari will send him players and as head coach of the Dominican National team, Antigua has a Latin connection that cannot be overstated.

Oh, did we mention? He really graduated from college. There are no eraser marks on his resume.

We heard a copy of his degree will sit atop the Sun Dome.

"He is the most energetic person I ever met," said Kentucky's Marcus Lee.

"I know he'll be a great coach," added Wildcats tournament hero Aaron Harrison.

"USF is a sleeping giant," Calipari said.

Oops, can we forget this line for the time being please?

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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